In order for President Obama to ever be on the offensive, he must constantly try to distract Republicans and the voters from his economic record. Last week his team did a good job of making Congress and the Romney campaign follow his lead.
On both student loans and the killing of Osama bin Laden, Obama displayed a willingness to shamelessly exploit and manipulate the issues in a way that is a cynic's delight.
On student loans, the president and the bipartisan congressional leadership agree that we must prevent an increase in interest rates on federal student loans. But rather than take yes for an answer, the president seized the opportunity to create a delay in action by creating a phony fight over how to pay for the lower-cost loans for students. Thus he can attack Republicans for being against helping students, and he can attack Republicans for however they want to offset the cost of the lower payments. Every dollar spent by the U.S. Treasury has a constituency, which is why Obama never says his cuts will affect anyone's pocketbook. Obama is playing it smart even though it is deceptive. He just has to be shameless and hope voters don't notice the cynical manipulation and hypocrisy.
Of course in the end, Congress will pass a bill to prevent the higher cost to students and the president will sign it.
Next, the president's team hit below the belt by suggesting bin Laden would still be alive if Romney had been president. Since there is no basis for this and it is so absurd, the Romney camp was caught a little flat-footed. The idea that anyone would have taken a pass on killing bin Laden is ridiculous on its face. But the Obama team put it out there and it was picked up by the media, and many dutifully wondered aloud and asked surrogates if it were true. The Romney campaign, which probably does not yet have the human resources it needs to plan and respond for every contingency, issued talking points and had campaign surrogates dutifully go on the defensive on behalf of the GOP nominee. Where was the retired uniformed military brass who could have expressed proper indignation over the very suggestion that Romney or any other American leader would not have killed Osama after others had done the hard work of finding him? A retired general could have gotten away with saying that it was tantamount to questioning Romney's patriotism to even suggest such a thing.
The lesson here is that Obama can have some success with his strategy of distraction. And we are reminded that he will be shameless and smug while he lets the lies fester. Unfortunately, this strategy invites the other side to create the same phony traps, and we then descend into a campaign that turns people off and doesn't result in an election that produces a mandate to govern.
Large amounts of straight-faced gall is a big advantage in politics if you need to deceive. Romney and all Republicans are on notice.